PROVENCE! Just saying the word conjures endless fields of sunflowers, the scent of lavender wafting though a breeze, beautiful clear skies, charming medieval villages, regional food, the azure of the Mediterranean and wonderful people. It is easy to understand why so many famous artists, including Renoir, Cezanne, Van Gogh, Picasso, found inspiration from this area of France.

Provence is the most Southeastern section of France. It is comprised of five major departments or areas. These are Vaucluse, Bouches-du-Rhone, Alpes-des-Haute-Provence, Var and Alpes-Maritimes. Depending on which guide book you read, the Cote d'Azur or French Riviera (Var and Alpes-Maritimes) may or may not be included as part of Provence.

If you are looking for a vacation that offers a variety of activities, but at the same time includes a relaxing experience, Provence is the place. For an area that is fairly compact, there are many choices. For the outdoorsman, you can head to the beach one day and hike to the top of Mont Ventoux the next. There are also many golf courses in the area. For the truly adventurous, try cycling through the area. Check online for companies that offer guided cycling tours. In addition, you can enjoy rock climbing and canoeing.

If sports are not your “thing”, the area is also full of historical sites. Many towns/villages include Roman ruins, old churches, cobblestone streets, and beautiful fountains. Visit a chateau, there are several across the region. The chateau in Tarascon, though basically empty, has been well preserved. Each village is more charming than the next. The larger towns, such as Avignon, Arles, Aix-en-Provence and Orange, all have sites of historical significance.

Culture abounds as well. For the art lover, follow Van Gogh’s path in Arles, where you can see several sites he painted. Visit the mausoleum in St. Remy where he stayed. In Aix-en-Provence, tour Cezanne’s home and catch a glimpse of Mont Ste-Victoire. Stop at the Picasso museum in Antibes, Renoir’s home in Cagnes-sur-Mer, and the Chagall Museum in Nice. Just outside St. Paul de Vence is the Foundation Maeght, a wonderful, small modern art museum. Or select one or more of the museums unique to the area, such as the Musee de la Lavande on the D2 toward Gordes, the Musee de la Faience (ceramics) in Moustiers or the Musee de l’Olivier, celebrating the olive tree in Haut-d-Cagnes (old Cagnes). Visit Grasse for the perfume museums.

Then there is the shopping! You don’t have to be a major shopaholic to enjoy the variety of possibilities. The markets, not to be missed, are a treat for the senses…..sight, sound, smell. These lively events, held every day of the week somewhere in Provence, provide a great opportunity to purchase a beautiful tablecloth, some sweet smelling soaps, a bottle of freshly pressed olive oil or select a painting to commemorate your trip. If your idea of shopping is Rodeo Drive or Fifth Avenue, head to the boutiques in St. Tropez and Cannes. St. Remy, Lourmarin, Gordes, Eze, Mougins and Tourettes-sur-Loup are among the smaller towns with charming boutiques and galleries.Head to Moustiers or Vallarius for faience (ceramics) and Biot for the areas hand-blown “bubble” glass.The antique center of Provence is Isle sur la Sorgue, which is frequently featured in US home decorating magazines. Antique markets are held in several other towns including Cannes, Nice and Villeneuve-les-Avignon.

Provence is a gourmand’s paradise. Visit the wineries of Chateauneuf-du-Pape for tastings. Eat at one of the region’s celebrated restaurants. Visit an olive grove for samples of freshly pressed olive oil. Pick up various types of locally made goat cheese and tapenades at the markets. Check online for cooking classes to learn first-hand how to make a Provencal specialty.

Just savoring the beauty, clear skies, and changing terrain of the area provides a special vacation. There is truly something for everyone in Provence!

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Note: Entrance fees quoted on this site are approximate based on US$ exchange rate at the time of publication.